Learning a foreign language has well-known social and even cognitive benefits, but people often underestimate the professional value of multilingualism. For starters, bilingualism equates to an average of 10-15% higher pay in the US job market. Specialized careers pay even more, but require a high level of language proficiency and possibly a foreign language degree for entry.

Types of Foreign Language University Programs

US universities have leveraged the country’s position as a self-proclaimed melting pot of cultures and languages into some of the world’s best foreign language education programs. Students can gain linguistic skills and degrees – from a two-year Associate’s Degree all the way up to a Doctorate – at a number of renowned US universities and in a wide variety of languages. Some of the most popular college foreign language programs are in Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, and French, but there are also concentrated programs in a plethora of lesser-known languages.

Career Paths for Foreign Language Majors

Some professions for foreign language majors are self-evident: translator, interpreter, and language teacher. Other careers, such as those in immigration law, intelligence analysis, and national defense, may not be so apparent. Students can either build their language skills from the ground up or hone their existing proficiencies, then access university services for career opportunities in various industries. Universities commonly provide foreign language job placement programs, alumni networking services, and government work partnership programs.

How to Evaluate a University Foreign Language Program

Every student has different needs and interests. Choosing a college or university is a very individualized process, but there are some common characteristics of the best US universities for foreign language degrees. The list below has been compiled from a number of sources and is based on the following criteria: number of languages offered, graduate earnings, school selectivity, number of students majoring in a foreign language, and other factors. The schools below are presented in no particular order.


Middlebury College

This Vermont university’s language school started over a century ago with the German language, became the nation’s premiere French language program during the 1950s, and has since evolved into a world-respected program for a variety of languages. This unassuming school in Vermont also offers the most study abroad programs, so students can cultivate their language skills in an immersive environment.

Columbia University

Columbia University

Columbia takes full advantage of its location in the multicultural epicenter of New York City. There are numerous collaborative programs and exchanges with other local NY schools and programs, which expose students to an incredible faculty of professors and instructors. This school features special courses in Haitian Kreyòl, Catalan, and an in-depth Latin program.


This massive public university has some of the best facilities and language curricula on the west coast. Apart from its varied course offerings, it is home to the UCLA Center for World Languages, a distinguished research center and online database. The school also has unique distance learning programs for learning less commonly taught languages, like Scandinavian, Khmer, and Yoruba.



It is only fitting for this prestigious Ivy League school to have an equally renowned language program. The Harvard program does not disappoint, offering classes and tutorials in over 80 languages. The school is particularly noted for its African languages program, teaching more than 30 African languages and dialects. The Language Center serves as the school’s language lab, as well as a center for linguist studies and American Sign Language.

Cornell University

Cornell University

This New York university takes an interdisciplinary approach to most of the Cornell language courses, tying them in to linguistics, literature, and business. Its Asian languages program is of particular note, as it offers full Intro to Advanced Study programs for more than a dozen Asian languages.


Stanford University

The Language Center at Stanford takes a practical approach to teaching real-world language skills. Its active methodology engages students and prepares them for work, research, and further academic study in the US or abroad. Stanford has notable Master’s and Doctorate programs for advanced study in a number of languages.


Vanderbilt University

This Tennessee school has created one of the southeast’s most dynamic foreign language programs. In partnership with Duke and the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt provides extraordinary programs in less commonly taught languages, like Pashto, Bosnian, and Amharic.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

The Penn Language Center offers not only an extensive number of courses but also special interdisciplinary programs, such as Spanish for Medical Professionals and Business Spanish. It also hosts a number of cultural events each month and coordinates peer tutoring and conversation classes.

Duke University

Duke University

Each course in the Duke languages program provides a unique blend of cultural history, literature, and practical skills. The professors design the curricula to go beyond basic communication and tie into the major themes of globalization, personal relations, and world history.

University of Wisconsin – Madison

University of Wisconsin Madison

The University of Wisconsin has a unique approach to higher-level language learning. Professors place a special emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the classes, and the school itself takes part in the United States Department of Defense’s Language Flagship Program, an academic language and culture program for “ten languages critical to U.S. national security and economic competitiveness.” Students interested in studying Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, or Turkish will find exceptional courses and instruction.

About the author

Justin Benton

Justin Benton

Justin Benton is a writer and English teacher based out of Colombia.